The pleasures of Pixar films are both big and small.
The big picture of “Brave” (Disney) is centered on the generationally-charged relationship between a headstrong young woman and her protective but loving mother. Queen Elinor (voiced with great dignity by Emma Thompson) is a monarch with traditional values trying tame tomboy princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald, with stubborn streak in her lilting accent) with lessons in royal responsibility and roles. It’s a story long overdue from the Disney/Pixar animation giant, and its beautifully done, even as it detours into a bizarre fantasy of magic gone wrong and the Queen transformed into a mama bear.
The small pleasures are myriad, from the playfulness of the storytelling and characters to the imaginative details that fill every scene to the wild, curly tangle of red hair that explodes from the head of young Merida, as unruly and untamable as Merida herself.
The character creations are as marvelous as anything Pixar has done, with special kudos to mama bear: the body of a burly, lumbering woodland giant inhabited by the struggling spirit of an elegant queen determined to force grace and regal bearing into the brawny body and meaty paws of this giant beast. At least until her human cub is threatened by the real beast of the forest and she turns fierce den mother to protect her own.
The film was developed, written, and initially directed by Brenda Chapman, the first female director of a Pixar feature, but she was removed and replaced by Pixar with Mark Andrews. (The two share director credit on the film.) Despite the change in vision, the storytelling is fine and the sensibility consistent. It is surely Chapman’s heart that drives the poignant struggle between mother and daughter and the devotion that anchors even their most fraught moments.
The most tender, touching and deftly told love story of the year is in the opening few minutes of “Up,” a wordless survey of a lifelong romance that plays out between the meeting of two adventure-hungry children and the lonely sunset years of the widowed husband decades later, the happiness gone with the death of his wife.
That’s just the prologue but it communicates the depth of emotion and devotion and need that will continue to reverberate behind the comic comments and outlandish fantasy adventure, a mix Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” the romance of explorers from thirties lore and Boy’s Own Adventures, the bubble-gum colors of a children’s picture book and a bouncy humor, all stirred with memories of childhood dreams.
The latest from Pixar, directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.) and written by Bob Peterson (“Finding Nemo”), is another journey movie, but this one is undertaken by a senior citizen determined to complete that odyssey into the unknown he was never able to give to his wife.
An animated robot love story with an environmental theme and a slapstick delivery, WALL•E is a charmer of a film and a delightful piece of storytelling. Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) with the animation wizards at Pixar, it takes on the challenge of delivering an animated feature that is predominantly wordless (and even some of those used are closer to sound effects than dialogue) and succeeds with both creative humor and visual grace.
WALL•E is a little mobile trash compactor who putters around a junked and abandoned Earth, sharing his days with a skittering cockroach and finding his pleasures in the little treasures he scavenges from his loads.
The nervous little guy has evolved a personality over the centuries, which makes his isolation all the more poignant as he pines for someone (something?) to hold hands (or whatever you call his clamp-like digits) with. And so he falls in love with a sleek, specimen-gathering pod named Eve and follows her back to her ship, becoming one of those unlikely heroes whose pluck and perseverance overcome impossible odds.
With its long, wordless scenes and mix of slapstick gags and delicate mechanical dances, it doesn’t look or feel like your usual animated feature by Pixar or anyone else, at least until WALL•E finds himself with the physically inert future of the human race. It’s almost like two movies cut together, one with the robots anda somewhat more obvious and less magical one with the fat and complacent mankind willingly bound to a luxury liner spaceship.
The mechanical heroes are more expressive and more engaging than the tubby humans, solely through the mechanics of robot eyes and body language and a symphony of beeps and whistles. If it reminds you of a certain little iconic robot from a hit space opera epic, it’s no coincidence. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt not only does the audio honors here, he’s credited as the voice of WALL•E.
Adults will pick up on a social satire in the portrait of a sedentary population lulled to distraction by a non-stop stream of media signals and small talk while the kids won’t miss the message of ecological responsibility, but the bright gags and childlike expressions of robot affection are so joyous that you can be completely charmed without even noticing the themes. Continue reading “New Reviews: ‘WALL•E,’ ‘Wanted’ and ‘My Winnipeg’”